They took their inspiration from Anita F. Hill, saw their opportunity in an electorate hungry for change and cast themselves as outsiders in a year when outsiders could be fashionable.

And it worked. Yesterday, a record number of women won seats in Congress, making the "Year of the Woman" a reality. Four female newcomers won or were projected to win election to the Senate -- tripling the number of elected women currently serving.

Thirty-nine women were confirmed winners in the House early today, with about 50 victories expected once the final tally is completed.

"You have made history, and as much as you are part of the history-making, you are showing the way for the entire country to the future," said Illinois' Carol Moseley Braun, who became the first African-American woman to win a Senate seat.

"We have shown what we can do when we come together and when we stop dividing ourselves," she said.

Braun, 45, Cook County's recorder of deeds, entered the race because Sen. Alan J. Dixon (D) voted to confirm Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court after a Senate committee heard testimony from law professor Hill that Thomas had sexually harassed her.

In Washington state, state Sen. Patty Murray (D), a self-styled "mom in tennis shoes," won a race she said she entered in response to Hill's treatment by the all-male Judiciary Committee. She said she and other female candidates benefited from the outrage, from a powerful desire for change and voters' preference for outsiders.

"And I'm {responding to} all three," she told her followers late yesterday. People know "that I am like them, and they know that when I'm on the floor of the Senate, I will be saying the same things that they will."

In California, however, it was two insiders who claimed the Senate prize. Former San Francisco mayor Dianne Feinstein (D) ousted appointed Sen. John Seymour (R) in a race that even Seymour's aides privately acknowledged was never close.

And in the last week of the campaign Feinstein stumped throughout California with Rep. Barbara Boxer (D), helping Boxer, the projected winner, to overcome 143 overdrafts at the House Bank and a tough challenge from Republican rival Bruce Herschensohn.

In all, the parties mustered a record 11 female Senate nominees and 106 female House nominees in yesterday's election. Women's groups, encouraged by Democratic presidential nominee Bill Clinton's showing and early results in women's races, predicted a big night for their candidates.

"Clinton's got some coattails," Woman's Campaign Fund executive director Jane Danowitz said. "There's a tremendous mood for change and an emphasis on domestic issues -- areas where women are really strong. There's a harmonic convergence between women candidates and the Clinton campaign."

Not so lucky, Danowitz and others said, are female Republican candidates, many of them abortion rights advocates getting little sympathy or help from the antiabortion national party.

"It is not so much the Year of the Woman," Danowitz said, as the "Year of the Democratic Woman."

"The Republicans really squandered an opportunity," Danowitz said. "The pro-choice Republican woman is neither fish nor fowl." She cited highly regarded Kentucky Republican Susan Stokes, an abortion rights candidate who lost to Rep. Romano L. Mazzoli, an antiabortion Democrat. Stokes's mistake, Danowitz said, is that "she had an R after her name."

Braun, a lawyer and a single mother, rode a roller coaster into the Senate, starting in March with a stunning primary win over Dixon, the first time an incumbent senator had lost a primary in Illinois in 60 years.

During the summer she seemed to be cruising toward an easy victory, running up huge leads over little-known attorney Richard Williamson (R). But in the last month questions arose over her handling of a $28,750 profit her mother made from a timber sale. Neither Braun nor her mother, a Medicaid patient at a state nursing home, reported the money to the state agency.

Braun's poll lead started to evaporate as Williamson raised ethical questions. But she stabilized her slide, leaving her as a substantial front-runner going into Election Day.

Women currently hold two elected Senate seats (Democrat Jocelyn Burdick is temporarily filling the North Dakota seat of her late husband) and 28 seats in the House. With the 106 female major party nominees running for 101 different House seats, 1992 figured to be the Year of the Woman strictly from force of numbers.

National interest in female candidates surged late in 1991 after the Hill-Thomas hearings, prompting a huge increase in fund-raising that enabled more women to match spending against their normally better-financed male opponents.

Probably just as important for 1992, however, was Congress's decennial reapportionment, allowing female House challengers -- like all non-incumbents -- opportunities to compete on reasonably equal footing in redrawn or new districts. New minority districts mandated by the Voting Rights Act gave greater opportunities for black and Hispanic women, who yesterday more than doubled the five seats they hold in the House.

"It was at reapportionment in 1982 that we began a strategy of flooding the election with candidates," said Patricia Ireland, president of the National Organization for Women. "And I would say that Anita Hill's confrontation simply added something new on top of redistricting and the outsiders' advantage."

Staff writer Lou Cannon in Los Angeles and special correspondents Kathy Rausch in Seattle, Leef Smith in Los Angeles and Lauren Ina in Chicago contributed to this report.